Devonte’ Graham hit the game-winner as the New Orleans Pelicans won on the first night of their back-to-back matchup against the Utah Jazz, 98-97.
Brandon Ingram led the Pelicans with 21 points. Jonas Valanciuanas added 11 points and 10 boards. Graham, who was 2-of-9 from the floor before his final attempt, finished with nine points.
The Jazz got 23 points from Bojan Bogdanovic in the loss. Donovan Mitchell scored 16 with Joe Ingles and Mike Conley adding 12 each.
The Pelicans came up clutch in the fourth quarter, riding a full-team effort to their first two-game win streak of the season.
On the biggest possession of the game, Ingram made the perfect read. He found the trailing Graham for a three that found nothing but net with 1.9 seconds on the clock.
New Orleans led 46-45 at the half, after holding the Jazz to only 17 second quarter points.
Utah took the lead back in the third quarter on the strength of its outside shooting, making five triples in the period. The Jazz made five in the entire first half.
Trailing by three heading into the fourth quarter, the Pels found an unlikely hero.
Willy Hernangomez opened the period with a bucket off a Tomas Satoransky pass. His layup off of an Ingram save tied the game at 82. His third assist of the quarter, which led to a Nickeil Alexander-Walker three-pointer, gave the Pelicans an 84-82 lead with just under seven minutes to play.
The energetic and active big has provided needed relief for Valanciunas over the last four games, averaging 12.7 points and 7.7 off the bench. He finished with 13 points, eight rebounds and five assists on Friday.
Willie Green got plenty from his second unit. Besides Hernangomez, both Nickeil Alexander-Walker (15) and Kira Lewis Jr. (10) topped double figures.
New Orleans extended its run to 11-3 when Herb Jones scored on a driving layup to put the Pelicans up 91-85.
The Pelicans were still up four when Mitchell, who shot just 6-for-21 on the night, buried back-to-back jumpers to put Jazz back in front, 94-93 with under two minutes to go.
Rudy Gobert, a longtime Pels nemesis, ended up being the goat. His missed free throw left the window open for New Orleans, and his foul of Ingram cost his team two more points as BI hit two from the stripe to set up Graham’s shot.
When the Pelicans win, it’s because of their defense. In the team’s four wins coming into Friday night, New Orleans had allowed an average of 95.5 points per game.
In this regard, Green has been presented with the same dilemma that faced both Alvin Gentry and Stan Van Gundy before him. What is the formula for getting this team to be focused enough on defense so they don’t become desperate on offense.
Step one of that has been removing some of the youth from his rotation. The five players that didn’t see minutes against the Jazz are all in their first or second season, except for Jaxson Hayes.
That has raised the basketball IQ and the floor for his team. Devonte’ Graham’s return has brought balance back to the rotation. Herb Jones has been the defensive lynchpin that the Pelicans have lacked since Jrue Holiday left for Milwaukee.
It was a significant win for Green, and the Pelicans — their first victory in clutch-time minutes of the season. Just how significant, though, could be determined by what happens on Saturday when these teams meet again for round two.